I write this letter in support of the Jonestown Memorial Committee’s efforts.
My sister, Liane Harris, was a member of the Peoples Temple, and perished in Guyana together with her family. My father, Sherwin Harris, organized demonstrations in front of the Peoples Temple in San Francisco, became an organizer of the Concerned Relatives group, and accompanied Leo Ryan to Guyana that fateful November. He survived his trip to South America. Leo did not. Neither did my sister.
The specter of the Peoples Temple pervaded my earliest childhood as an oddity, then as a concern, then a cause, then a terrible fear, and finally a great tragedy. As a child, I attended the Concerned Relatives meetings, and heard their fears and concerns as they planned their trip. The fears they expressed were hardly credible to my teenage mind, and very very scary. Then after that terrible day of the deaths, I received a phone call from my father in Guyana, telling me to get out of the house, to tell no one where I was going, and to flee to somewhere no one would expect to find me. We were concerned as our names were on a list of enemies of the church, and we thought we were to be stalked and killed by hit squads. I was 16. We hid for weeks.
My sister was later buried in my grandmother’s burial plot, next to my grandfather. My grandmother put a stone on her own grave site, in the Jewish tradition, but for her granddaughter. It isn’t supposed to be this way. So many more relatives of church members are out there like me, waiting these long years, for some kind of collective memorial, where my sister’s and others memories will once again be found together, and where future generations will be able to point to, and see the scope of the tragedy.
After more than 30 years, it is time for a decent memorial to those who died at Jonestown. This good faith effort by the Jonestown Memorial Fund committee has included personal contact and buy in by myself, my father, and members of my family. The committee has reached out and tried to do something good, something to commemorate, something lasting. While others my be trying to make a similar effort, this is one that is all but complete, and has included those concerned. We support it. We would support many memorials, and we welcome others efforts to create them. Yet we do not wish anyone to stop this effort.
I speak for myself, my father, and my family in strong support of the Jonestown Memorial Committee’s current effort. I thank them and you, and I hope that it is successfully completed, and soon. Let’s not wait until those that were there have passed, to make a memorial. Let’s finish this one now.